Edition #23

CIJ moves to RMIT's new Social Innovation Hub!

The CIJ has always been about collaboration and multidisciplinary practice. Our organisation has expanded rapidly over the past 12 months, as we’ve engaged new staff to take on our growing list of research projects and student activities. 

That’s why, having outgrown our Victoria Street office, we took it as an opportunity to bring our community legal centre partners under the one roof – and add another CLC to the group! 

As of this month, the CIJ has moved to a newly fitted out building on Pelham Street in Carlton, and we will shortly be co-located with our partners the Mental Health Legal Centre and the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women. In an exciting new partnership, in the coming weeks, we will also welcome to the building Youthlaw, providing free legal advice to people aged under 25. 

We believe these co-locations will not only strengthen and expand our unique student opportunities, including for RMIT law, social work and financial counselling students, but will also allow us to better collaborate, research and advocate for sensible changes to the legal system that make it fairer for all its users. 

Also joining us in the Hub are two other innovative RMIT entities – the Melbourne Innovation District team, and Health Transformation Lab. We are planning to host an event to launch the new space later this year – but in the meantime you can find us at:

Level 2, Building 152 
147 – 155 Pelham Street
Carlton 3053
Funding extension

The CIJ is pleased to announce that our integrated practice partnership with the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women has been extended for another year to December 2020, thanks to funding from the Federation of Community Legal Centres. The Federation's Integrated Services Fund will continue to allow a social worker and a lawyer to be employed at LACW to deliver a service that provides pathways out of the justice system for vulnerable women. The funding builds on an initial grant that was received in late 2018.

The service is delivered through specialist, gender-informed legal advice and representation provided by a solicitor, alongside case management and support from an experienced social worker to address the non-legal issues underlying clients’ legal problems. Intensive case management is provided to women who may experience barriers such as unstable housing; family violence; substance addiction; ongoing mental health concerns; and difficulty accessing the NDIS.

This funding also allows RMIT law and social work students to be offered clinical placements within LACW to build the capacity of the integrated services and provide students with unique learning opportunities.

The CIJ is looking forward to continuing our LACW partnership to provide quality services to socially and economically disadvantaged women, to further explore opportunities for research collaboration in our new co-located premises and to give our students life changing clinical experiences.

Spent convictions - some good news!

The CIJ's work with Woor-Dungin and its partners advocating for spent convictions reform in Victoria took another big step forward on 27 August, when the Legal and Social Affairs Committee of the Victorian Parliament recommended that a scheme be introduced as a matter of urgency.

The recommendation comes after a four-month inquiry by the committee, chaired by Reason Party MP Fiona Patten. The committee also recommended the adoption of anti-discrimination provisions to support the operation of the scheme. In the Chair's foreword, particular reference was made to the work of Woor-Dungin and the contributions made by the Criminal Record Discrimination Project.

You can read the committee's final report here.

It is hoped that given the strong recommendations of the committee, and the widespread support for such reform, the government will respond positively by introducing a legislated scheme. As the project has argued, such a scheme would ensure important outcomes can be met, including removing barriers to employment for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ex-offenders, and enabling all Victorians to rehabilitate and contribute to their communities.

The government is required to respond within six months of the report being tabled in Parliament.

Catch some recent media coverage of the issue through stories in The Age and on the ABC.

And you can read more on our website about the committee’s historic trip to Gunditjmara country in southwest Victoria to hear firsthand about criminal record discrimination.

Ex-offender employment workshops

Meanwhile, on 12 and 13 September, Woor-Dungin with RMIT held a series of workshops at the Koori Heritage Trust in Federation Square for Aboriginal ex-offenders and employers wishing to hire Aboriginal people with criminal records. 

The CIJ’s Stan Winford and RMIT’s Professor Bronwyn Naylor presented on criminal record checks and research on employers and their approaches to making employment decisions. Patrick Warner and Rachel Gleeson from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service presented on Working with Children Checks. Aboriginal people with lived experience also told their stories. 

On both days, representatives of employers from the government, non-government and private sectors, as well as job placement agencies presented on their approaches and provided tips for job seekers. Both days were very well attended and positively evaluated, and there have been requests for the training to be delivered in regional Victoria. We hope these workshops result in more ex-offenders overcoming their pasts in order to find work and that we can also reduce the stigma around criminal history. 
Voice at the Table Training for CIJ Staff

In August CIJ staff participated in Voice at the Table training to help the Centre work in more accessible ways with people with cognitive disability. The training provides practical information to organisations to ensure they are listening to the voices of people with cognitive disabilities. The session was facilitated by self-advocates Eva Sifis and Cameron Bloomfield, who shared their lived experience as they delivered the training. Topics included the importance of inclusive practice, tips on identifying barriers to participation for people with cognitive disabilities and techniques for running inclusive meetings.  

This training forms part of the CIJ’s ongoing work with the Self-Advocacy Resource Unit (SARU) on the Voices for Justice project. Voices for Justice is delivering self-advocacy training to people with cognitive disability and lived experience of the criminal justice system. The first participants in Voices for Justice commenced training this month and will be ready to provide expert advice on their experiences to government and other policy makers to drive positive, consumer-led change in the criminal justice system when they graduate in November 2019.  CIJ can facilitate the engagement of Voices for Justice, and welcomes expressions of interest. Contact Stan Winford or Michael Haralambous for further information.

Supporting Justice update

The Supporting Justice project has moved into its systems change stage of work. The project team have developed a system map that visualises the criminal justice system from the perspective of a person with disability. The map highlights factors that influence a person’s experience as they move through the system and maps the relationships between these different factors. 

Utilising the system map, the project team is consulting with key stakeholders in the criminal justice, disability and social services sectors to build a shared understanding of the system and opportunities for change. As part of CIJ’s work with the Self-Advocacy Resource Unit (SARU) on the Voices for Justice (VFJ) training, the Supporting Justice team have also consulted with VFJ participants who have shared their lived experience of the system and priorities for change. 

The project team are wrapping up the map consultations and are consolidating their findings in preparation for a systems change workshop. The workshop will bring together leaders in the criminal justice and disability systems and put the voices of people with lived experience of the criminal justice system at the centre. At the conclusion of the workshop the project will have a list of change priorities to work with stakeholders to improve the justice system for people with disability. 

To keep up-to-date on the Supporting Justice project, click here to sign up to the project bulletins.

Restorative justice report launch

It’s an exciting time for our work in restorative justice, with the impending launch in October of the report on our project on restorative justice for serious driving offences, as well as an important new initiative that we will release details of shortly.

The project, funded by the Legal Services Board, involved designing a model for restorative justice conferencing available to people affected by motor vehicle collisions that resulted in death or serious injury in Victoria, where the offending driver was an adult.

During the project, 15 referrals were accepted into the program for restorative justice processes, with overwhelming support from stakeholders including Victoria Police, the Office of Public Prosecutions, those who work directly with victims of crime, and victims themselves.

We are delighted that the Honourable Ben Carroll, Minister for Victims and Corrections, has agreed to launch the report for us at an event in October. 

Victim Service Review second phase 

The CIJ has recently concluded the first stage of a review of services for victims of crime, commissioned by the Department of Justice and Community Safety. We’re now bringing our in-depth understanding of the victim services system and insights on opportunities for reform to part two of the project.
In the coming months, the CIJ will work in partnership with KPMG to make recommendations for the design of a responsive and integrated web of services for people dealing with the aftermath of violent crime. Drawing on interviews conducted with victims of crime, we will again work with key service providers and systems reform experts more widely to develop a program for reform that’s evidence-based and client-centred.   
Part of the Victim Services Review (part two) is a project to review and consider the future enhanced design of the Child Witness Service. This service, which is independent of the courts and prosecutions, applies a specialised case management model to facilitate and support the participation of child witnesses in the criminal justice system.

New multidisciplinary taster placement   

In August the CIJ held its first multidisciplinary taster placement for law and social work students. The theme was 'innovations in support for victims' and the students were hosted by the Child Witness Service, the Intermediaries Pilot Program and the Office of Public Prosecutions.

Students toured the purpose-built Child Witness Service and learned about their important work supporting children and young people who are witnesses in court proceedings across the state. The students also heard about the trailblazing work being done by the Intermediaries Pilot Program providing access to justice for vulnerable witnesses and improving fair trial outcomes.

At the Office of Public Prosecutions, the students had a discussion with social workers and lawyers regarding their multidisciplinary practice, which better supports witnesses and victims in prosecutions of serious crime. Lucy – the court support dog – stole the show and students heard her amazing story of being trained by a woman serving a custodial sentence, to supporting sexual offence complainants during the often-traumatic process of cross-examination. 

Feedback from students was resoundingly positive as you can see from the reflections below:

"I left the day feeling incredibly hopeful and excited about the growing field of work between law and social work and how these programs are at the forefront to creating a more adaptive and holistic approach to justice." 
- Danielle Watts, JD & MSW concurrent degree student
"It was exciting to realise how many jobs exist where interdisciplinary and collaborative work is happening between lawyers and social workers. It made me feel like I was heading in the right direction with my studies! To top it off, meeting Lucy and learning of the therapeutic effects of court dogs was incredible - all in all an awesome day."
- Eliza Hew, JD & MSW concurrent degree student

Financial Counselling in full swing

The financial counsellors employed by the CIJ have now been delivering services to women at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre for seven weeks through MHLC's Inside Access program. The RMIT Financial Counselling students have been on placement for four weeks and we currently have three students on board working through their 110 hours.

We continue to provide information sessions for women on remand, and recently presented a targeted session on ‘understanding your credit report’. This was very successful and another is scheduled later in September.
Interest in the service is growing among both women on remand and those who have been sentenced, and our unique opportunity to work within the integrated practice model has seen a steady flow of referrals to our Inside Access law and social work colleagues.

Where are they now? 

Brigette Rose finished the RMIT Juris Doctor in 2017. The CIJ had a chat with her to see what she's been up to since.

When did you graduate, what have you been doing since then? 

I finished the JD program in March 2017, so at the end of the extra summer semester, while I was on parental leave from my full time job in health policy at a medical college. Since graduating, I returned to work full time...

New York Innovative Justice Study Tour Video

In June 2019 the CIJ took 10 RMIT law students on our annual Innovative Justice Study Tour, visiting New York City for the first time. Over five days, we witnessed some world-leading therapeutic justice practices and community-driven solutions to offending, in boroughs from the Bronx to Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as Newark, New Jersey.

The tour was such a success that we decided to make a video to capture and relive all the highlights. Watch some of our wonderful students as they recap the day's events and reflect on what innovative justice can look like on the other side of the world.

“We must all stand up for an independent judiciary” 

In response to public debate about Victoria’s mandatory sentencing laws for assaults on emergency service workers, our Director Rob Hulls penned an opinion piece in the Herald Sun, defending the independence of the judiciary.

“Mandatory sentencing... is an expensive, one size fits all approach that fails to take into account the individual circumstances of a particular case & disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in our community."


Greg Barns on his life in the law

The next episode in our video interview series for students is with high profile criminal barrister, media commentator and RMIT law lecturer Greg Barns. In the video, Greg tells CIJ Director Rob Hulls about his journey into the law, defending controversial clients, mental health in the legal sector & his love of teaching the law to students. You can watch the video via the link below:


Criminal Records, Employment Discrimination & Aboriginal Communities

On 22 August, the CIJ's Stan Winford joined Professor Bronwyn Naylor and Naomi Murphy to present an RMIT Law Twilight Seminar. The three speakers are all members of Woor-Dungin’s Criminal Record Discrimination Project team, and their presentation covered the impacts of criminal record discrimination on Aboriginal people, as well as the achievements of the campaign for a legislated spent convictions scheme in Victoria. You can listen to a podcast of the event via the link below:

CIJ out and about

Coming up are the following CIJ speaking engagements:

1 & 2 October - Presentation on PIPA project findings at Swinburne 'Working with violence in adults and youth conference' in Prato, Tuscany

15 October - Presentation on PIPA project findings and workshop regarding opportunities for positive interventions in adolescent family violence, Geelong (one in a series of presentations to collaboration of local community organisations)

29 October - Presentation to Judicial College of Victoria - responding to perpetrators of family violence in court

8 November - Australian Institute of Judicial Administration - Panel Presentation - Justice for Young People

14 Nov - National Legal Aid conference dinner Speaker: Rob Hulls

26 November - Victoria Police Academy - presentation on responding to perpetration of family violence by adolescents and working with perpetrators more broadly

9 & 10 December - Workshop on adolescent family violence - International Network on Filial Violence, Melbourne

10 - 13 Dec – Australian & New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, WA. Speaker: Rob Hulls
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